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Neshaminy Federation of Teachers

AS BOARD APPROVES AGREEMENT, NESHAMINY TEACHERS SAY VOTE MEANS FRESH START FOR EDUCATORS AND COMMUNITY

School Board Endorses Deal 9-0 Following NFT’s Ratification Last Week
 
LANGHORNE, PA (June 13, 2013) — Leaders of the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers said tonight’s School Board’s 9-0 unanimous vote to approve the agreement on terms for a new contract with teachers should bring a fresh start for NFT members, the school district and the community.

“After more than five years of difficult and sometimes divisive negotiations, we are thrilled to conclude this process with an agreement that enables everyone on both sides to refocus and recommit ourselves to strengthening our community as a place where everyone is proud to say I live and work and learn in Neshaminy,” said NFT President Louise Boyd.

“We all agree that educating Neshaminy children is our most important responsibility,” she said. “For teachers, the students in our classrooms are what sustained us through many tough circumstances.

“This agreement is a chance for everyone devoted to the success of Neshaminy students—teachers, administrators, parents and community members—to come together and make a fresh start on fulfilling that mission,” Boyd added. “Everyone worked hard to make sure we found solutions to issues raised by both sides so that we can now move forward together.”

NFT leaders noted that it has been a week of events that signify new beginnings, including Neshaminy High School’s commencement exercises on Wednesday.

“Teachers are so proud of Neshaminy’s newest graduates,” said NFT Vice President Anne Schmidt. “We have watched many of them grow and achieve new things since they were in Elementary school. And just as they are commencing the next phase of their lives, it is time for our whole community to move ahead and begin a new chapter in the life of our school district.”

NFT members ratified the deal in an overwhelming 487 to 21 vote on June 3. The new agreement runs through June 2015 and replaces the previous contract, which expired at the end of June 2008. Many teachers expressed their satisfaction at having a new agreement in place.

“What excites me most about a contract settlement is that the community, the teachers, and the board have the opportunity to move forward and refocus our energy 100 percent on the students and programs,” said Cara DeLorenzo, who teaches Spanish at Neshaminy High School. “My hope for our future is that positive morale is restored and that we realize working together and respecting each other’s essential roles in the district is the most powerful and effective way to reach our goals as a district.”

NFT leaders highlighted some of the terms that will be part of the new contract:

  • The same class size limits as in previous contracts, along with new language addressing class size limits for classes serving special education students.
  • A new salary schedule with compensation levels that will enable the Neshaminy district to continue to attract and retain good teachers.
  • Mechanisms that guarantee teachers’ input and an important role in school committees, so that teachers’ professional expertise will continue to help shape education in Neshaminy schools. Teachers can continue to advocate for what students need, while recognizing that management has the final decision-making authority—as has been the case.
  • Provisions folding in some aspects of previous memoranda of understanding into the new agreement, thus maintaining operational stability achieved through solutions that were carefully created by earlier administrations, teachers and staff.
  • Language extending retirement benefits and conditions to all certified staff members who gave notice of retirement effective at the end of the school year—a commitment both sides felt it was important to honor.

Teachers and other certified staff said the agreement achieved a balance of educational values, financial considerations and professional standards, while acknowledging that there were some tough tradeoffs involved, including significant new costs to teachers for the District’s health insurance plan.

“In the end, this is about moving forward,” Boyd said. “The agreement honors our commitment to remain a key force in advocacy for students. We will continue working alongside parents and other community members to maintain transparent and responsible governance of our schools.”

NESHAMINY TEACHERS, SCHOOL DISTRICT REACH TENTATIVE AGREEMENT ON NEW CONTRACT

NFT Plans June 3 Ratification Vote; School Board to Act Within 10 Days

 

LANGHORNE, PA (May 28, 2013) — Leaders of the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers and the Neshaminy School Board announced today that they have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract for members of the certified staff in the Neshaminy Public Schools.

The agreement – which comes after nearly five years of difficult negotiations – must be ratified by a majority of union members and the school board. Union and district leadership deferred discussion of specific terms of the agreement until members of the NFT could be briefed. If ratified, the agreement will replace the previous contract, which expired at the end of June 2008.

“It has been a long and challenging process that brought us to this point,” said NFT President Louise Boyd. “The tentative agreement we are announcing today addresses some professional issues that are important to teachers and their students.”

She credited NFT Vice President Anne Schmidt and School Board President Ritchie Webb for working vigorously over the Memorial Day weekend to resolve some final questions. 

“The tentative agreement we have worked out secures what both sides needed to move ahead to a new contract,” Webb said.

Schmidt agreed, “This has been a tough process, but we believe the agreement will be a new beginning in our relationship. It is time for our community to stop looking backward and focus on the future of our schools and our students.”

Webb and NFT leaders also praised the involvement of the state mediator, Bill Gross, who had guided formal bargaining sessions over the last year.

NFT President Boyd said a ratification vote on the agreement will be taken at a membership meeting scheduled for Monday, June 3.  Members will receive information detailing the terms of the tentative agreement.

School Board President Webb said he expects the tentative agreement will be on the agenda for a special Board meeting to be held within 10 days.

NFT MEMBERSHIP VOTES TO REJECT BOARD CONTRACT OFFER!

LANGHORNE, PA (May 16, 2013) — At a meeting attended by more than 75 percent of the NFT’s membership tonight, NFT members voted by secret ballot to decline the latest contract offer made by the Neshaminy School Board. The vote followed a motion by NFT Vice President Anne Schmidt to put the offer to a vote. In that motion, Schmidt recommended that the vote be conducted by secret ballot.

The Board’s most recent contract proposals include the following demands:

  • A refusal to preserve class size limits in the existing contract.  
  • The elimination of past practice language that is a traditional aspect of all union contracts. This language would allow teachers and school staff to negotiate changes in school and district operations with management as such changes arise.
  • Invalidating and excluding from the contract the memoranda of understanding on district policies and practices that have been developed over the years between teachers and the district.

“Our members realize that this is not about the financial issues, most of which have been resolved,” said NFT Vice President Anne Schmidt after the meeting. “What the Board’s last proposals make clear is that this Board is bound and determined to take away teacher rights and silence teacher voice by breaking our union. Our members have offered huge financial sacrifices to try to reach a contract, but one thing we can’t do is give up the professional rights that allow us to speak up for the educational needs of our students. The Board has threatened to withdraw its salary offer if we don’t give up those rights, but that’s not a trade-off our members were willing to make.”

Board President Ritchie Webb had repeatedly urged Neshaminy teachers to vote on the district’s latest contract offer. “This vote was a vote for our unity and our values,” said NFT President Louise Boyd. “Even at the risk of continuing a five-year salary freeze, teachers can’t betray our professional standards. Our members have spoken. We hope this vote will demonstrate to everyone that the way to a contract is clear. Let’s get back to the table and hammer this out.”

Gov. Corbett's plan for pensions a sham

By Ted Kirsch

It’s important to have all of the facts before believing a sham of a plan that will allow Gov. Corbett to do to pensions what he’s already done to public education: cut public funding so more taxpayer dollars can be diverted to grant massive corporate tax breaks.

Claiming “at least he has a plan” (“Fighting chance,” April 16 editorial) doesn’t cut it when the governor’s plan will destabilize two pension systems that have provided a modest, middle-class benefit for teachers, bus drivers, public safety personnel, librarians, nurses and other middle-class wage earners for nearly 100 years.

Gov. Corbett’s plan for the Public School Employees Retirement System and State Employees Retirement System will undermine the retirement security of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania residents, add $5 billion in new pension debt to be assumed by taxpayers between now and 2019, and undercut bipartisan pension reform legislation, which — if given a chance to do what it was designed to do — will gradually restore pension funding to sustainable levels, without jeopardizing the welfare of our senior citizens.

“Fighting chance” ignored or distorted several key facts:

• Unlike private-sector pension plans, in which employees usually make no contribution, public employees pay about 7 percent of their salaries into their pensions every paycheck, every year, over decades-long careers.

• From 2001 to 2009, teachers, public safety officers, nurses and other public servants paid more than twice as much into their pensions as their employers, which had been granted an extended contribution “holiday,” during which they contributed little or nothing. The governor’s plan continues deferring employer pension payments, which will only make the pension debt worse.

• If employers had contributed as much as public employers’ national average toward pensions just since 2011, SERS and PSERS would have $20 billion more in contributions and investments now, which represents half of the funds’ combined debt, a new Keystone Research Center study shows.

• In 2010, legislators passed Act 120, pension reform that reduced employer pension costs for new employees to 2 percent of wages, raised the retirement age and increased the vesting period, eliminated lump-sum withdrawals for employee contributions and created a shared-risk feature that increases employee contributions should investment returns under-perform.

Pension payments aren’t the reason school districts across Pennsylvania are struggling to provide vital programs and services, such as preschool and full-day kindergarten, art and music, libraries, nurses and counselors and tutoring, enrichment and sports, to our children and grandchildren.

They’re struggling because Gov. Corbett cut nearly $1 billion in public education funding in each of his first two years in office, and he plans to extend the bulk of those billion-dollar cuts into the coming school year.

Meanwhile, the governor continues to give costly new business tax cuts to his corporate campaign contributors instead of closing reasonable tax loopholes that siphon $800 million a year from our schools, colleges and universities and other public services, according to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

Give Act 120, the bipartisan pension reform law, a chance to what it was designed to do: stabilize school and state employee pension funds and provide retirement security for middle-class Pennsylvanians.

 

Posted Monday, April 29, 2013 on phillyburbs.com

Neshaminy teacher speaks at Annual Columbia Scholastic Press Association National Convention

NESHAMINY SCHOOLS — Neshaminy teacher Tara Huber spoke at the 89th Annual Columbia Scholastic Press Association National Convention at Columbia University on Wednesday.

For a second year in a row, she received this honor based on the Gold Medal achievements of the student journalists of the Playwickian, Neshaminy High School's student newspaper. Her presentation was "Going Gonzo: Incorporating Literary Journalism Techniques in Your Publication.” Huber is an adviser to the newspaper.

By Christian Menno, Courier Times Staff Writer

Posted Friday, March 22, 2013 on phillyburbs.com

NFT LEADERS: ‘WE ARE STUNNED AND PERPLEXED BY THE DISTRICT’S DISORGANIZATION AND CONFUSION.’

 

District Admits It Was Not Aware of Many Longstanding Aspects of Teacher Contract 

LANGHORNE, PA (March 18, 2013) — Leaders of the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers said today that they are “astounded” by School Board President Ritchie Webb’s assertions on Friday that he and the Board were unaware of a large majority of 201 existing contract agreements with the teachers’ union, an omission that NFT Treasurer Marian Reed called “absurd and irresponsible on the part of the district.”

In a meeting on March 8, the NFT provided the district with 201 exhibits and side agreements —also called Memoranda of Understanding—that are part of the existing contract under Pennsylvania law. NFT leaders noted that the side agreements (a traditional practice in labor contracts) were developed over three decades by past union leaders and past district administrations, working collaboratively. NFT leaders said that at the March 8 meeting, district officials produced only 17 of the agreements. In later statements reported by the Courier Times, Board president Ritchie Webb was quoted as saying that the Board had “thought there were maybe 50 or 60” side letters. 

NFT Treasurer Reed said, “Frankly, we’re stunned and perplexed by the district’s disorganization and confusion, and astounded by Mr. Webb’s comments. We presented 201 contractually binding pieces of this contract to the District at our meeting, some in place for decades, and they were aware of only 17 of them. Since 1980, our union has kept these legal documents in our office, in a simple three-hole-punch binder. That wasn’t a tough job for us, but it seems to have been beyond the district’s capability. Surely board members who are ultimately responsible for running the district, and who have been sitting members of the board for the terms of five superintendents, should have a better understanding of their district and this contract.”

Reed added, “Mr. Webb’s comments show a real failure on this Board’s part to understand the contract and even the concepts that make up a contract, such as the difference between letters of agreement and past practice. Their failure to comprehend these issues is hindering negotiations. In his comments, Mr. Webb appears to confuse two very different contractual concepts, past practice and letters of agreements. Sadly, after more than five school years of negotiations, our School Board president does not understand basic contract terms and concepts.” 

Reed noted that none of the agreements are secret in nature. “These agreements were carefully created over 30 years by past teachers, administrators and Boards, working together to resolve concerns. A few agreements were even reached over the past five years.  They took time, communication, and trust in both sides. For Mr. Webb to ridicule them with no respect for the history of the time period they were established or the hard work of past teachers and administrations is unbecoming of someone charged with leading our school board.” 

NFT President Louise Boyd said, “Instead of trying to negotiate through the papers, Mr. Webb should deal with issues at the bargaining table. The NFT has repeatedly urged the Board to bring issues they’d like to discuss, such as security badges, to the table, instead of announcing new ones every few weeks in the newspapers.” 

Boyd added, “Teachers have done our part. We’ve agreed to virtually all of this Board’s financial demands. Now the Board has moved on to attacking contractual safeguards vital to our professional rights and to the quality of education in our schools. For example, they want to abolish class-size limits. They want administrators to be able to change students’ grades. And now Mr. Webb claims that the vast majority of our District’s longtime contractual agreements are ‘ridiculous.’ Is it any wonder that we don’t have a contract?” 

As a point of clarification, Boyd said that there has not been a single meeting held between Superintendent Copeland and NFT leaders to review the side agreements. (Recent reporting that there had been several of those meetings was inaccurate, she noted.) “Superintendent Copeland cancelled last week’s meeting with me to review and explain the history of each of the agreements,” Boyd said.

Teachers will decide when and how to vote

By SUE SCHNEIDER

As a Neshaminy teacher and union member, I’d like to set the record straight on what I view as inaccuracies in your Feb. 8 editorial, “Let teachers vote!”

You reference the need for “secret ballots” and paint a shady picture of union leaders watching over NFT members as we recently debated whether to call for a vote on the district’s “final” contract offer. In conversations within our schools and at the membership meeting on Jan. 2, NFT members made it clear to our leadership that the district’s offer was unacceptable. And through an unquestionably clear voice vote, we let our leadership know we stood with them.

As members of a democratic organization who always decide for ourselves the direction we should take, we don’t appreciate the district’s intrusive attempt to force a vote. Union members have made it clear that we, not outside parties, will decide when we are ready to vote on a package put before us by our bargaining team.

You note that voters must cast their ballots without the fear of threats or intimidation, as if to imply that civil, well-educated professionals are incapable of having an intelligent, open discourse before voting by voice. In fact, under Robert’s Rules of Order, if the voice vote had been unclear, any member would have had the right to call for a secret ballot. You then wrongly imply the “ruling elite” is dominating the membership without strong support from the vast majority of membership. This implication is simply false.

Union members voted overwhelmingly to re-elect every current officer. The advisory team of representatives from each building also recently passed a unanimous “vote of confidence” resolution in our negotiating team. There is no coercion, no iron fists. What you’re seeing is an overwhelming majority of members who continue to place their trust in the colleagues they’ve selected to represent them.

School board President Ritchie Webb’s assertion in the board’s recent press release is correct — NFT members have spoken and we have refused to vote on the district’s “final” offer. For most members, our primary problem is not with any economic piece of the offer, although we are frustrated that the district is now refusing to bargain further when our team has offered to concede on every financial demand the district has made. The concessions we’ve offered would cover the cost of a settlement if we can keep these talks going.

But in spite of the belief the Courier Times shares with some district officials, the Council Rock salary scale cannot — and should not — “buy” away our professional rights and concerns for the climate in our schools and the quality of education we provide our students. Believing that “buying teachers off” is a possibility shows a deep misunderstanding of why we became teachers in the first place.

We’re mystified as to where the Courier Times is getting information about what takes place during our closed-door membership meetings. For you to assert members feel intimidated and are afraid to speak their own minds based on “second-hand accounts” as well as “first-hand accounts via social media” is irresponsible. If you want to know how things happened at our membership meeting or how my fellow members feel, please ask the representatives our members have clearly re-elected (with secret ballots).

Here is the true bottom line: We have spoken. There will be no vote on a “final” offer that strips many critical rights from teachers and students and dissolves years of mutual understanding between employees and administrators. It’s interesting to note that when members of the community hear the facts, they also stand with teachers and have demonstrated much-appreciated support for us. Time and again parents have told me and other NFT members to “Hang in there” — to keep advocating for what’s best for their children and for our schools in this contract.

We’re sending our negotiating team back to the table to work on the substantial list of unresolved issues. We hope the district is willing and able to do the same.

We’ve made great strides. We know an agreement can be reached if both sides work to find ways to close the gaps on the remaining issues. We believe that give and take on both sides can result in a good contract. In the meantime, we respectfully ask members of the school board and the editorial board of the Courier Times to let us decide when and how we will vote on a potential settlement.

Posted on 3/11/2013 at PhillyBurbs.com

Neshaminy teachers remain united

By RABBI JEFF SCHNITZER

Regarding Stephen Pirritano’s Feb. 11 letter, “Teachers confirm it; union leaders out of touch”: Mr. Pirritano holds that teachers have been “misled” or intimidated by our union in our decision not to vote on the district’s “final” contract offer. His letter included anonymous quotes, allegedly from teachers, attacking the NFT and fellow teachers. That your paper would print such unattributed statements is truly disappointing.

The community letter-writing campaign Mr. Pirritano references was meant to create the false impression of a divided membership. The tone and questionable assertions in his letters to staff prompted me to reply to him privately. And after seeing his letter in the Courier Times, I feel compelled to share the essence of my response:

I am part of the union. I am not an officer, but, as a teacher, I am the union. And I can attest that the the entire idea of voting on the district’s proposal in its current form was rejected in a resounding voice vote at the NFT member meeting on Jan. 2. I was at that meeting. And I can say, in good conscience, that there is no doubt what our members wanted. It was clear from the overwhelming vote that the board’s latest contract offer does not address teachers’ concerns about the potentially harmful effects of this contract on our students’ education.

But to me, what’s even more important than these negotiations is the underlying climate in our district. I am a lifelong Neshaminy resident and a Neshaminy graduate. I have been a Neshaminy teacher for 25 years. During most of that time, while we teachers did not always see eye to eye with the school board, I always felt that those previous boards respected teachers and the educational process. Sadly, I do not feel that way about this current board.

Each previous board managed to work productively with teachers and school staff. When this board alone racks up contract violations and publicly ridicules our schools and teachers, isn’t it clear where the problem lies?

Surely, the least our board could do is to acknowledge the dedication and commitment of our teachers and urge our community to do the same. Disagreement also happened with past boards. But I have never seen a board that displayed the fundamental disrespect toward teachers and school staff that this board has shown. The negative climate that has resulted creates an opportunity for critics of teachers and our unions, such as Mr. Pirritano, to further their own agendas at a high cost to staff, students, and community.

I will leave you with this thought. If anyone has shown concern for the students in Neshaminy, it is the teachers, nurses, counselors, secretaries, and custodians who are here in our schools day in and day out, working with, teaching, comforting, and most of all, caring about each and every child who walks through our doors.

(Rabbi Jeff Schnitzer is a 1973 graduate of the Neshaminy School District, a full-time music teacher in Neshaminy, and serves as a part-time Rabbi for Congregation Tifereth Israel in Bensalem.)

Posted 3/9/2013 at Phillyburbs.com

NFT AND SCHOOL BOARD WORK LATE INTO THE EVENING AND ACKNOWLEDGE THAT PROGRESS IS MADE ON KEY ISSUES

List Of Unresolved Items Substantially Reduced And
Compromise Reached On Teacher Voice

LANGHORNE, PA (January 16, 2013) — Representatives of the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers and the Neshaminy School District met this evening for the first bargaining session of the new year. The majority of the session was spent working to refine a list compiled by the Federation of 69 items that are either unresolved or required clarification. During the face-to-face discussions, the parties mutually agreed that more than a third of the items on the list could be considered resolved based on developments at the previous meeting on December 18th

Through the state mediator, the parties exchanged proposals addressing the sensitive and heavily publicized debate over teacher voice on school committees. After extensive discussion between both teams, the Federation and District reached a tentative agreement on language that settles the issue. According to NFT leaders, the language required mutual compromise. 

“We were absolutely unwilling to agree to anything that completely compromised the professional voice of our members in decisions that affect our students and our day-to-day work,” said NFT President Louise Boyd. “The language we settled on clearly removes any reference to ‘equal say’ and makes it clear that the District has final decision-making authority, but it preserves the critical role of teachers in school-based decision-making.”

“Board President Webb has assured us repeatedly that he recognizes and respects the meaningful input of staff in our District,” said Boyd, “and the language we ultimately agreed to is a reflection of that viewpoint. Now we hope to keep moving things forward.”

The parties scheduled another bargaining meeting for Thursday, January 24th.

Is the Neshaminy School Board Really Ready to Withdraw Their Latest Offer?

 

NFT members have offered significant economic concessions on key items that the Neshaminy School Board identified as essential for reaching a settlement.  In fact, we have offered massive concessions on all the economic concerns the board originally brought to the table—retirement costs, health care coverage costs, retroactive pay, and experience credit.  If the parties can reach an agreement, the concessions offered by teachers for the duration of the proposed contract would include the following: 
 
· Insurance plan modifications with member premium share contributions
   of 11%, 14% and 16% ($5.48 million savings)
 
· Elimination of retiree healthcare and incentives ($3.42 million savings)
 
· Reduction of healthcare opt-out percentage ($2.84 million savings)
 
· Elimination of longevity pay for all but 30+ years at reduced amount
  ($1.44 million savings)
 
· Reduction of life insurance ($0.10 million savings)
 
· Prorated benefits for partial contract employees ($0.65 million savings)
 
· Elimination of stipends for 10 and 10.5 employees ($0.87 million savings)
 
·  Agreed to work additional hours: an extra half-hour each day and an additional half-day--the equivalent of 13 more teacher work days in the school year ($12.4 million in services)
 
The Board’s offer based on the Council Rock salary schedule is equivalent to $14.3 million.  The NFT’s concessions are equivalent to $14.8 million (not to mention agreeing to provide an additional $12.4 million in educational services).  Therefore, a potential settlement would be entirely funded through NFT membership concessions. 
 
 At this point, the Board has threatened to pull its most current offer –a move that will put negotiations back to square one after months of hard work and progress. Our students and this community are counting on us. We urge the Board to return to the table and continue working with us to resolve the remaining contract issues.

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